Between handling screaming children while on conference calls at home and dealing with the stress of sending kids back to school, parents with young children haven’t had it easy this pandemic. Remote working as a result of COVID-19 has greatly affected life at home as we know it, and in some cases, has completely changed family dynamics and parenting styles.
Most entrepreneur parents, or “parentpreneurs”, have the privilege of working from home, even in the absence of a pandemic. That doesn’t mean keeping kids home for remote learning has been easy.
DMZ founders share their experiences while working from home with kids. Inevitability, there have been challenges – but parents have also seen some surprising silver linings come out of it.
If you’re a parent in a similar situation, you might find comfort in hearing that no family has perfected life during a worldwide pandemic. Hear what these founders are saying!
Tweepsmap’s Samir Al-Battran, Founder & CEO and Erin Heywood, Manager of Operations, are a parent duo with three school-aged children. As soon as the pandemic hit in March, Tweepsmap had already begun remote work. Samir and Erin felt prepared ahead of their school’s shutdown and, all things considered, were appreciative of their situation as parents.
“We’re lucky. Not everyone has the luxury to work from home or has a business that can continue without much disruption,” explains Erin. She adds that it helps that her children have two tech-savvy parents and enough devices in the home to make distance learning physically possible for three kids in one household.
Zeze Peters, Founder & CEO of Beam.city is also a parent of three: two school-aged children and a newborn. He claims that parenting during the pandemic has been both amazing and tricky – something that many parents can relate to: “Before COVID, my wife and I were complaining that we didn’t have enough time to spend with our kids. Mid-school year, we got our wish – but not on great terms.”
Kate Mansouri, Founder & CEO of Pennygem has had her hands full in 2020. For Kate, it’s been a year of firsts – she’s growing her first startup and has become a mother for the first time. Most of the Pennygem team consists of women that have children, so as a leader, Kate has been understanding of parenting struggles during a pandemic.
“It’s been tough for them. Sometimes parents are sitting in a meeting, their kids walk in and ask a million questions and they have to turn the camera and microphone off to attend to the kids. It can be tough to stay on track and be productive having your kid around,” Kate explains. “I, myself, have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day. My most productive times are from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., and then in the evening when my baby goes to bed.”
For Samir and Erin, working for the same company has both its benefits and drawbacks. “The challenge is that kids are screaming while you’re trying to have a call with a customer, so it’s been different – and Erin can’t work as much as she could before because she’s taking a lot of the load from our children being at home.”
Zeze’s sentiments are similar, stating that client meetings and managing a team has been a little tricky with the kids home from school. “Sometimes they’ll come in and join my meetings, which actually doesn’t always bother me, but it does break your workflow. There’s a concept in technology called context switching: going from business work to funding work, to team management work, writing technology, to responding to emails and then, of course, dealing with kids. A context switch takes your mind from one mode to another mode. Working from home, my daily productivity went through the floor. As an early-stage startup, every hour matters, especially when I’m leading a team,” Zeze says.
In August, provincial governments and school boards across the country began announcing plans to send kids back to the physical classroom this fall for the 2020-2021 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic posed yet another dilemma for parents. While at-home work productivity would surely improve, the potential spread of the virus amongst kids is something parents have to take into consideration.
While Kate has a newborn baby and doesn’t yet have to make a decision on whether to send her child to school, she knows most of the parents on her team have found it difficult balancing family and work life, and will likely be opting to get kids back into a routine. “I think [the parents] would be taking the option of having kids go back to school. It’s been very tough on some of them. Many moms are looking for ways to take their children back to daycare or school, even if it’s part-time,” Kate explains.
Erin and Samir say they’ve made the decision to keep their three kids home for remote learning, at least for the start of the year. Erin mentions that, in continuing remote learning, there will be bumps in the road – but it won’t feel like the same emergency it was in the Spring for her three kids. “The school has a set mandated time for teacher-led learning every day. The kids will have to be in front of a computer, and some people are complaining about screen time – but frankly, this is the choice you’re making for your child if you decide to keep them home.” Erin also says that if class sizes were smaller, they would consider sending their children back to school. But with potentially 25-30 in a classroom, there won’t be much physical distancing.
Samir mentions that the decision to keep kids home will help with the consistency of their learning. “We’re thinking about sustainability. If things get bad again and schools shut down, it would be disruptive to their school year. If we get them online from the beginning, at least they will have more stability in their learning.”
Zeze and his wife have also opted to keep their two school-aged children in the virtual classroom for now. “As good as the intention is to have teachers bear the brunt of the cleanliness for large periods of the day, it’s just hard to be perfect,” Zeze explains. “There are hundreds of kids. With COVID, even though small kids may not have strong symptoms and develop issues, it may not be the same for their parents and grandparents.”
As the digital workplace and classroom may very well be our reality for the next while, we asked founders if they have tips to offer other parents for improving work-life balance and family dynamics in the current environment. Parents also explain that amidst the pandemic, they have seen some benefits to keeping the family at home – and have been embracing the silver linings that have come with it.
Erin and Samir are grateful that they even have the ability to work from home and spend more time with the family. In terms of tips for keeping the family happy and productive, Erin adds: “Each case is different, every child is different. You can’t listen to what everyone is telling you. Try to come up with a solution that works for your own kids, your company and your life. It’s important to listen to your kids and what their needs are.” As an example, given the government’s social bubble restrictions, Erin and Samir have been flexible with allowing their daughter to spend more time than usual socializing with friends online.
A practical solution for Zeze’s family was to establish a consistent daily routine in which his kids finished school work first thing in the morning. “Before they did anything else, they had to get their school work done early in the morning. By about 10:00 a.m., they would be done for the day. My wife and I could get back to being productive with our own work.”
As a founder whose team has been working in a digital format since the company’s inception, Kate doesn’t plan to bring her startup into an office setting post-pandemic – at least not full-time. Her team sees great value in Pennygem’s remote working policy.
Kate explains that some mothers on her team have appreciated the extra bonding time at home with children. “My hope is to provide them with an opportunity to have meaningful input, but at their own convenient time. It’s working really well for us. We’re very flexible,” Kate adds. “The situation was a big eye-opener for a lot of people. We were required to work from home all of a sudden, and many of us have discovered that it’s working. It’s tough, but you learn to work around it.”
Zeze adds that a silver lining to this crisis has been that his family is making special memories that they will cherish forever. “The kids have picked up arts and crafts, they paint now too. We’ve been having barbecues together, we’ve built a farm full of fruits and vegetables which the kids have helped plant and harvest. Every day when they go out to play, it’s cool to look out the window and see them playing in the backyard. It makes us feel happy.”